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Why Americans Don’t Wear White after Labor Day

FILE - Guests wearing white clothing sit down to a pop-up dinner at New York's Lincoln Center, Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017. The event, known as Diner en Blanc, French for Dinner in White, is an annual foodie tradition and began in Paris 29 years ago. (AP Photo)
Why Americans Don't Wear White After Labor Day
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This Monday is Labor Day in the United States – a holiday linked to workers’ rights and wearing white.

That may sound strange, but it is true. Many Americans put away their white clothes on Labor Day and do not wear them again until the following May, after Memorial Day.

One reason for the clothing custom relates to the season. In the United States, the months between June and September are summer. The weather is usually hot, including in Northeast cities like Boston, Massachusetts and New York, New York. Many people there historically wore light-colored clothing in the summertime to keep cool.

Judith Martin is an expert on manners – in other words, on how to behave politely. She spoke to Time Magazine about the history of wearing white in the summer. She said Americans in the 1800s and early 1900s wore formal clothes all year long. Wearing white clothes in the summertime may have felt more comfortable because “white is of a lighter weight,” Martin said.

Then, in about the 1930s, wearing white clothes in the summertime became fashionable, too. That is because some wealthy Americans in Northeast cities went on vacation for weeks or months in the summer. They stayed in costly hotels or summerhouses. The white clothes they wore there became linked to ease, beauty and money. But at the end of summer, around Labor Day, they put those white clothes away and returned to their lives in the city – as well as to their darker, heavier clothes.

In time, not wearing white after Labor Day became a bit of a fashion rule. Following it showed that you were wealthy -- or at least that you knew how to act like you were.

Today’s fashion magazines, however, advise readers to ignore the rule. They point to Coco Chanel, Kim Kardashian and Michelle Obama, who have appeared in white in all seasons.

But you may want to be careful about wearing white to an American-style Labor Day barbecue. The trouble is not fashion – it is ketchup. If it spills, the popular red tomato sauce can ruin a nice set of clothes.

I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.

Kelly Jean Kelly wrote this story for Learning English with reports from Reuters and Time. Ashley Thompson was the editor.


Words in This Story

comfortable - adj. not having any physically unpleasant feelings : experiencing physical comfort

fashion - n. a popular way of dressing during a particular time or among a particular group of people